Common name: Pale Spikerush
Scientific name: Eleocharis
Family: Cyperaceae (rush)
Habitat: vernal pools, wetlands
Size: Plants are up to 24 inches tall; stem looks like a long green straw with a tiny pine cone-like flower at the tip.
Fun facts: The stems are hollow when the plant is in water and solid when the ground is dry.
Description: Member of the rush family. Rushes are closely related to grasses. Each flower is made up of a tiny bract and the stamens and pistil. The flowers are arranged in a cluster that looks like a tiny (up to 8 mm long) pine cone.
Pale Spikerush is the only grass-like plant in the vernal pools with a tiny brown scaly flower at the tip of its straw-like stem.
Life cycle: Pale Spikerush is a perennial plant with long underground roots called rhizomes. It is one of the two vernal pool plants that lives longer than a few weeks. The plant can reproduce using seeds and it can spread by sending out rhizomes that produce more stems. Pale Spikerush blooms in late May.
Ecology: Pale Spikerush prefers the deepest vernal pools where it can often be one of the dominant species. You can tell which parts of a vernal pool hold water the longest by finding the patches of Pale Spikerush.
When there is water in the vernal pools, its stems are hollow to transport air down to the roots. When the water is gone, the stems fill in with pith (hard spongy-looking material) to make the stems stronger and harder to bend or break.
Investigate: The cone-like flowers are wind pollinated. The stamens usually hang out of the flower in order to be exposed to the wind. Can you find flowers in which the stamens are hanging out? What is another perennial plant in vernal pools?